Crime

Gucci belts, Lacoste shirts: An NC flea market sold them, but agents say they were fake

Law enforcement authorities found counterfeit items at the Farmers Market Flea Market in Lexington, N.C., this week – the third time in as many years that officials have seized illegal merchandise in that area. Statewide, officials say fake merchandise can be trafficked across state lines and shipped from overseas. At times, the shipments of illegal merchandise have come in by the tractor trailer truckload to North Carolina.
Law enforcement authorities found counterfeit items at the Farmers Market Flea Market in Lexington, N.C., this week – the third time in as many years that officials have seized illegal merchandise in that area. Statewide, officials say fake merchandise can be trafficked across state lines and shipped from overseas. At times, the shipments of illegal merchandise have come in by the tractor trailer truckload to North Carolina.

A 48-year-old man selling knock-off clothing, perfume and CDs at a Davidson County flea market was caught this week by trademark enforcement agents from the North Carolina Secretary of State’s Office – which has seized nearly $2 million in counterfeit products from the same area over the past three years.

The Davidson County Sheriff’s Office says the fake products, designed to look like more expensive, name-brand items, were likely trafficked across state lines after being made overseas. At times, the shipments of illegal merchandise have come in by the tractor trailer truckload.

“Not only are these (companies) cheated out of their copyright and royalties but you’re looking at a thing where taxes aren’t being paid on this stuff and it’s also affecting potential jobs over here,” says Sheriff David Grice, whose department helped state trademark agents shutdown a counterfeit vendor selling at the Farmers Market Flea Market, located in Lexington, off U.S. Highway 52.

Authorities charged Calvin Venard Wilson Sr., who is from Massachusetts, on a misdemeanor trademark violation and hauled away the $17,700 worth of alleged counterfeit goods, according to a news statement from the N.C. Secretary of State. The confiscated products included Polo and Lacoste shirts, Gucci belts, Dolce & Gabbana perfume and music CDs.

It’s the third time in as many years that agents have found counterfeit items at a Lexington flea market. In 2014, authorities confiscated nearly $1 million worth of counterfeit merchandise at Wholesale Alley flea market in Lexington. Two people, from New York, were charged with felony possession with intent to sell and deliver counterfeit goods.

The 2014 raid saw agents seize more than 2,000 fake “Beats by Dre” headphones, name-brand clothing, Michael Kors and Coach handbags, Duck Dynasty ski caps and Otter Box protective cellphone cases.

A year later, agents returned to Wholesale Alley.

This time, authorities charged a 41-year-old man from Raleigh with a felony trademark violation after finding him selling off-brand handbags alongside fake designer tags – apparently with the intent that the tags would be added later to the bags. The Secretary of State’s Office in North Carolina says the man was charged at Wholesale Alley and was selling the counterfeit tags at a booth just outside the gates at the market.

The owners of the two markets in Lexington could not be reached by the Observer on Thursday. Business phone numbers for both Wholesale Alley and the Farmers Market Flea Market are the same, but the two businesses have separate websites and are open at different times through the week.

One of the flea market properties used to be a large livestock auction yard for local farmers. Now, vendors sell a variety of household items, flowers, produce and hand-made goods.

The market is a past-time for some people and the sheriff himself has been going to the local livestock auction-turned-flea market for decades.

“It’s evolved and people started coming in who were selling different purses and clothing items,” Grice said.

The counterfeit problem, he said, has happened numerous times.

Enforcement largely falls to the trademark division of the N.C. Secretary of State. Officials there partner with local law enforcement agencies to conduct raids and make arrests.

State officials say cracking down on fake goods helps reduce other types of crime. The distribution channels for counterfeit and potentially dangerous items are often the same, said Secretary of State Elaine Marshall in a statement Thursday.

Besides investigating fake name-brand purses and perfumes, Marshall’s office has ramped up enforcement on fake online pharmacies and the sale of knock-off prescription pills, primarily via the internet.

The Secretary of State launched a new website this year called “Verify Before You Buy,” which will help consumers instantly identify whether an online pharmacy service is legal and safe. The FDA estimates 97 percent of online pharmacies are illegal, with some selling potentially toxic drugs and pills with unknown ingredients.

Anna Douglas: 704-358-5078, @ADouglasNews

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